Poor grammar is inherently painful—which is why proofreading is so important to the writing process. You probably do a bit of editing and proofing while you write. You catch a few typos, alter word choices and apply a fine gloss to the composition. You may change the sentence structure and add snippets of creative flair. This copyediting is important, but should never take the place of actual, methodical proofreading.
To make the proofreading stage easier, every yearbook committee member should establish a process. This process, when followed with consistency, will ensure no mistakes slip through the cracks. Below are some helpful tips for how to proofread your own writing, to make the process, and your yearbook, as successful as possible.
Step One: Gather Tools
Develop a cheat sheet. A one-page overview of what to look for, tips, tricks, and common mistakes is an exceptionally helpful tool. You can include capitalization and punctuation guidelines, as well as tricksters like plural possessives. Also, it’s always great to include a list of common homonyms. Even the most experienced eye mixes up their, they’re, and there on occasion.
Create a list of items to double-check. This list doesn’t show you what to look for, but reminds you where to look. You need to closely examine all of the written words on the page—more than just those in your articles. Errors can hide in photo captions, headings, and pull quotes. You should also double-check the spelling of all names and proper nouns.
Step Two: Prepare
Proofread only after the content is absolutely complete. When you’re creating content, you are using the creative part of your brain. Proofreading, on the other hand, requires an analytical eye and orderly process. It helps to take a moment to mentally flip that switch.
Start with fresh eyes. If you’ve kept to your deadlines, you should have plenty of time between writing and sending your yearbook to the printer—use that time to step away from the content, and let it rest. It’s hard to proofread something that you’ve just spent the last week exhaustively revising. Give it time, then come back to the page with fresh eyes.
Get rid of possible disruptions. Close your email, switch to music without lyrics, and put your phone away. Proofreading requires attention, and since all the heavy lifting is happening in your mind, it helps to remove distractions. Focus on the proofreading—and only the proofreading.
Print out a hard copy. Errors that are missed on the screen often jump out on paper.
Step Three: Get to Work
Take your time. We live in a fast-paced world where we create content every day through social media and written communication. These brief quips and updates are quickly shared without a second glance. For published materials, the key is to slow down and methodically examine all the content. After all, a yearbook can’t be corrected with a follow-up asterisk and a smiley face.
Make several passes for different types of errors. Apply some method to the madness by systematically looking for different errors on each pass. On the first pass, search only for misspelled words. On the second pass, pay careful attention to punctuation. The final round should look at grammar.
Read the content out loud. When you’ve been looking at content for a while, it’s easy to register something as correct when it’s really just familiar. When you read aloud, you engage another one of your senses and are able to hear grammatical issues. It’s practically a superpower.
Point at each word as you read. If you were looking for a needle in a haystack, you wouldn’t just grab fistfuls of the hay, take a quick gander, and toss them aside. You would closely examine each piece with a critical eye. It is the same with proofreading—every word deserves your full attention. This is also a great way to to catch repeated words (see what I did there?).
Get a second opinion. A second set of human eyes can work wonders. After they’ve given it a once-over, there are also several free tools online for proofreading and checking grammar. Grammar.ly, for example, carries out 250 different grammar checks, and might catch some of those small errors that slip by. While you should never depend on these tools alone, they can provide peace of mind as a final check.
A Final Word
Though we suggest you follow these steps in this order, you might function better by using these tools differently, or by picking and choosing the most effective methods for you. Through trial and error, you will figure out what works best for your proofing process, and what leaves you with error-free copy.
When all is said and done, a story isn’t complete until it is proofed. Think of it as the happily ever after of your writing process. Following these tips will ensure a painless proofing process and a grammatically spotless product. Don’t allow simple mistakes to draw attention from the content of your yearbook: typos are as frustrating as watching a video online that won’t stop buffering. Remove the buffer to give your readers a seamless, enjoyable experience.